On Campus 48 years later

by cheri block

This is the time of year where most of us are invited to at least 2-3 graduations and the  parties that follow. We are no exception. I attended my nephew’s graduation in film/business from USC last month and flew down to cheer him on and hear Will Farrell deliver a fine and funny commencement speech.

At the conclusion, I tried to find my daughter and grandson among the throngs of people in University Park,  where, in 1969, I often reclined in the shade of the huge sycamore trees in front of Doheny Library reading poetry by Wordsworth and Coleridge in preparation for my British Lit Before 1800 class.

I remember feeling romantic in the park in 1969 (only four years after the Watts riots so close by the campus) , staring skyward on my back at the hundreds of broad green leaves that  shielded my view from the smoggy yellowish sky of Los Angeles. The security helicopters buzzed Figueroa Avenue often back then, not to be outdone by the hundreds of planes landing at LAX minute by minute. Am I forgetting the Harbor Freeway, so close to that soft lawn, only blocks from my grassy tuffet? Somehow those days, reading the Rime of the Ancient Mariner I  felt dreamy, mystical, and sophisticated. After all, I was only 19 years old and the world was my oyster.

But now.

Will Farrell finished his comedy routine. The graduation  ended. I was alone among thousands, adrift in the sappy memories of my youth and the tremendous passage of time.

I needed to locate my family. The graduation party would begin at a lovely cool Zen restaurant in downtown Los Angeles. Hunger blotted out my sentimentality.

My daughter, somewhere on the periphery of University Park, texted me:


“Mom, where ARE you?”

Sara, I am standing right below Tommy Trojan, the iconic USC bronze statue upon which 1 ton of manure was dumped by helicopter during Homecoming Week, 1969, by some spirited enclave at UCLA. Just head to Tommy Trojan and you will see me. I am wearing a big hat and a small sundress,” I texted with the speed of a slug.

“Mom, where is Tommy Trojan?”

“OMG, Sara. Ask anyone and they will point the way. Everyone, except the grandparents of all of the hundreds of foreign students, knows where Tommy Trojan is.

She materialized and with relief, I hopped down from my pedestal.

My grandson wanted a tour of my old haunts. And my take on then and now. Wow!

What was life like for you at USC in 1969?” he asked, looking at me with his soft brown eyes and smiling through a mouthfull of braces. (God bless him.)

I jumped like a kangaroo gramma at his question despite the fact that the heat of Los Angeles had begun to check in with my circulatory system.

(I have reached a stage in my life, since I sold my business and retired, where few people ask my opinion about anything. When I expressed this sad and sorry state of my personal affairs to my son, he told me that the reason is that most people already know it.)

Ouch. Back to therapy.

So we, that day in May at USC–a generational triumvirate– wandered around the campus, which had experienced tremendous growth and change.

We found my sophomore dorm, Birnkrandt, where my memories of my roommate Susie H and of my horrible soriety rush experience came back with the clarity of a high-country lake.


I told my grandson that Susie and I used to watch two of the greatest male tennis players ever to grace a clay court–Stan Smith and Bob Lutz–from our room and salivate. Those were the days when male tennis players and basketball players wore shorts. I would call down, ” Hi Stan! Nice shot!” and he would look up and smile. Melt.

The tennis courts had vanished, moved across campus to the mega-sports complex by Heritage Hall, where all of the Heisman Trophies (except O.J. Simpson’s) were there for viewing.

And so it went, that day last month, where our family celebrated the newest USC Trojan graduate, my nephew.

At his party, I toasted my Grandfather Harry, who graduated from USC Dental in 1907, one hundred years ago.

Some things have changed in LA. The smog isn’t as bad. The traffic is worse. There are more tattoes and graffiti. The San Gabriel Mountains are still hazy in May.

One thing has not changed: the optimism of the graduates, as they anticipate the next stages in their lives.

Congratulations to you!



About Cheri

Writer, photograph, artist, mother, grandmother and wife.
This entry was posted in Life, My childhood, People, Places and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

17 Responses to On Campus 48 years later

  1. Sharon says:

    I loved this blog… can’t even tell you why:). Perhaps, a look into the life of a young Cheri!

    • Cheri says:

      Thank you , my friend. The problem I have is that I still FEEL like young Cheri but I find myself surrounded by old people. And then, I look in the mirror. Still a version of my young self there but harder to find these days! Ha! The beat goes on….

  2. lindamomof4 says:

    And congrats to you all! Xoxo

    Sent from my iPhone


  3. It really was that long ago? Go Figaroa Tech!

    • Cheri says:

      Now THAT is a funny answer, Aunt Kayti. And yes, it really was that long ago but as I said, sometimes those days feel like yesterday, which is why I remember them so vividly.

  4. Sara Marek says:

    We loved our time with you that day, Mom!

  5. wkkortas says:

    Oh, boy– back in the day, the Stan Smith Adidas were the thing–always wanted a pair, but they were a bit of a luxury. Had I know you at the time, I would have had you bat the eyelashes and snag me a pair.

    As an aside, one of the most legendary Trojan Heisman winners, Frank Gifford, is a central figure in one of the finer forgotten novels– or at least, it isn’t read as often as it once was– namely Frederick Exley’s A Fan’s Notes. It’s uneven, but Freddy Ex could write when he was on his game.

    • Cheri says:

      Oh, Frank Gifford and every other USC quarterback and running back were my father’s football heroes. I know I may have written on this blog that I went to USC JUST to please my father. Can you believe it? Those were the days when feminism had not yet risen to the top of the volcano. Why not please my dad?

      We had been watching USC football with my grandfather Harry all through the sixties. Those were wonderful days sitting in my grandfather’s apartment around Lake Merritt (he had lost two wives by then so was living alone), watching USC football (they always seemed to win) and then watching Lawrence Welk.

      We’d go down to Emil Villa’s Hickory Pit and I’d order ribs and fries. My dad and grandfather would recap the game we had just watched.

      SO…when USC accepted me, my dad hoped I would go. I did.

      Go Trojans.

      Both my dad and grandfather had died when I went back to Stanford and became a Cardinal fan. Thank God. What a cardinal sin…

  6. Christopher says:

    This is a beautifully written and evocative piece. So much of it hit the spot with me, my being now in the autumn of my years.

    “……I often reclined in the shade of the huge sycamore trees………reading poetry by Wordsworth and Coleridge……..”

    I think that the book a student reclining, today, in the shade of a huge sycamore tree is more likely to be reading, is “The Art of the Deal” or “The Power of Broke”, rather than the poetry of Wordsworth and Coleridge.

    “………my memories………..came back with the clarity of a high-country lake……..”

    This is so good, I may find myself tossing it out (quite unconsciously of course) when next I speak with someone I want to impress!!!

    You said in one of your above comments “……..I still FEEL like young Cheri but I find myself surrounded by old people. And then, I look in the mirror. Still a version of my young self there…….”

    If your experience is anything like mine nowadays, the old people surrounding you are of your age? Perhaps, like me, you also found that your first thirty years went terribly slowly, but your next thirty went so fast you wondered what the hell happened?

    Your used the phrase “……a tour of my old haunts…..” when you spoke of your walk through the campus.

    Perhaps, like me, when I occasionally visit my old haunts of forty and more years ago, you felt yourself the same young age you were then, and the present habitues there – who were still unborn when you studied there – looked through you as if you were invisible. So that – like I often do, today – you felt like “…..just a plain, old graveyard ghost….”?

  7. Cheri says:

    This is such a lovely comment. So thoughtful and indicative of someone who is sensitive and reflective.
    It’s interesting about “old” people. Many of the people around me now are in the autumn of their lives. However, depending on health, both mental and physical, some seem young and some seem beyond their numerical birthdays. Often this must be a factor of heredity, lifestyle, and personality.

    Yes! The first forty years seemed to go by glacially; these last twenty-six are traveling way too fast. Slow down, say I! And yet, I waste time, preoccupied at times, with stuff that does not matter at all.

    The contrast between young and old seems dramatic to me. So much has changed technologically. Here in Silicon Valley those changes are IN OUR FACES every day. So many hotshots, young new-money folks who are definitely not reading Coleridge or Wordsworth.

    At USC during the day about which I wrote, I did see lots of faces of eager healthy-looking young people and their parents and grandparents. Many of the parents actually had on sport coats and I saw some ties. Across Los Angeles at UCLA, I am sure the group didn’t look as natty or at Berkeley.

    What I notice most is the changes in the body. My trainer calls it a race against “decriptude.” God.

    Now I have to stretch out every morning for about 30 minute just to limber up and relieve some muscle tension.
    Now I think about what I eat.

    I had no mentors to share with me about the aging game. Perhaps those people were just living their life.

    I do remember what my mentor, Joe said to me when he turned 79. He told me that people were starting to treat him like an old man. He didn’t like that at all. I remember thinking that Joe will not be here that long after saying that.

    And on March 15, the Ides, my old professor and dear friend, left this realm in a flash.

  8. shoreacres says:

    What I find myself thinking whenever I literally or metaphorically revisit my past is, “If only I had been the person I am now, then.” There are things I would have done quite differently, if only I’d had the confidence, curiosity, and chutzpah. I think I might have spent more time planning for old age, too, instead of assuming everything will work out.

    On the other hand, I’ve had a great life, and I managed to escape a few snares without too much damage. That’s not the worst thing in the world.

    • Cheri says:

      You and I think alike. I would love to go back to my dysfunctional high school English Department and be the “now” Cheri.
      Interesting comment about planning for old age. I also assume everything will work out somehow. It’s part of that enormous kid that lives inside.
      Based on your beautiful writing and the chronicling of so many of your life experiences, past and present, it does seem that you have had a “beautiful life.”

      I feel the same way and am grateful for my blessings.

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